For most people, their first visit to a yoga class can be quite telling. Someone once told me “Yoga introduces you to yourself.” I have seen over and over just what a profound statement this can be. So many times, we quite simply are not paying any attention to how life is affecting us. It does take a toll on our bodies, our attitudes, and our very spirit. Conditions such as having chronic pain, being deconditioned, and being overweight do not happen overnight. It is through these conditions that may cause someone to start a yoga program. They say things like, “I need to work on my flexibility”, or “I need some calm”, “I am injured”or “My doctor told be to come so here I am.” This is the first step, but the hard part is coming back, and participating for a lifetime while we experience the fluctuating results of continued practice.
People start with an eagerness to get better and a hope that this will happen in an acceptable time-frame. Of course, people love success stories and breakthroughs with significant results in a matter of weeks. I have heard of many an instructor describe the challenge of motivating a student to “stick with it” and be patient. However, as most humans experience, there is the ever-common obstacle of samshaya, or indecision/doubt. Yoga is an activity that requires us to slow down and to become mindful of what we are doing, how we are feeling, and how we relate to others. Most people have a tough time managing this and many who come to Yoga for the first time have never realized how much they are missing with regards to observation of the inner-workings of their bodies and minds.
One major thing is that once the shoes are removed, we realize quickly that our feet may not be symmetrically functional. Without shoes to mask our issues, we are now face to face with our foundation being unsteady. This process carries on through our knees, hips, trunk, shoulders and neck. Postures require us to move slower, hold / maintain positions, and listen to very detailed, descriptive cues that cause us to move and become aware of things we have never felt nor knew were possible in our own bodies. We notice our minds wandering all over the place and how difficult breathwork and meditation can be in terms of focus, given our hurried lifestyles. We begin to realize that this body is aging. Maybe our activities have taken a toll. Maybe we are not paying attention to our lives for the most part at all. Now the question is can we deal with this knowledge and are we willing to do the work to change it?
I have had students walk up to me and say “fix me.” I have seen students come in 4-5 times and quit. Certainly we are all prey to this. In the Yoga Sutras, the author Patanjali calls us to practice / Abhyasa. It means having “an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility” (1.13) and “To become well established, this needs to be done for a long time, without a break” (1.14). Many long-time students discover that with practice, a deeper practice starts to unfold. This deeper effect changes the core of their being. But what if this never happens? Many start an exercise program and quit after a few days or weeks. Many go to doctors to get “fixed”. They have surgeries, pain injections, and other procedures designed to “fix” their problems. Certainly serotonin uptake drugs and surgeries are sometimes necessary, but should we do nothing else? Should we actually become active in our own health? If we are all aging, does it not make sense for us to take an active role in aging gracefully?
Maybe the problem is that we have a warped idea of what we think we should be. We want to look a certain way. We want to be able to do certain things. We want to attract the right mate, job, finances, and healing modality so much that we continue searching from one thing to another trying to find it. We spend years invested in our current state of health but expect the results from our fitness and wellness trials to be immediate.
Again, Patanjali speaks of having Vairagya/Non-attachment: “The essential companion is non-attachment (1.15), learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.” Maybe once we accept the inevitability that we will age, people will come and go, and we are not perfect, we can actually begin to take solace that Yoga is a practice. Getting on the mat to do asana, pranayama, and meditation leads us in the right direction of Self-discovery, while non-practice leads to becoming sidetracked pains and pleasures along the way.
Once of my teachers, David Swenson, said “I have never regretted a practice…but I have often regretted not practicing.” Every day, we have to get on our mat and do what we can to combat the resistance we feel to stay where we are. If we can do this, no matter what happens after that, we are winning. Being present and fully responsible for our current state of health….this is the goal.
Lauren Eirk, MS, E-RYT 500, MATRX
Satchidananda, Sri Swami. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yogaville, Virginia: Integral Yoga® Publications, 1978, 1984, 1990.